From a Chinese latchkey kid to an American entrepreneur in Bellevue | My Turn

“I am a little wolf from the North,

walking on the infinite wilderness,

sharp and cold wind blows,

along with the yellow sands.

I can only clench my cold cold teeth,

and give my two long howls.

It is not for anything, but

for that legendary, beautiful pasture.”

For so many times in 1989, I was that crazy teenage girl riding on my green bike cruising through the Hu Tongs (small alleys) of Beijing between home and school, emotionally singing this song out loud and out of my heart. I felt like that little wolf because I am from Beijing, which is in the north of China. That beautiful, legendary pasture is the United States where my parents were and where I dreamed to be. I felt trapped in the infinite wilderness as I had tried to get a visa from the U.S. embassy perhaps a dozen times and was rejected every time.

Each time I went to get my visa, my aunt and I got up at 3 a.m. to wait in a long line outside the U.S. embassy. After hours of waiting in line and paperwork, I typically had a less-than-five-minute conversation with an American officer saying, “I am sorry that I cannot grant you a visa because you have immigration tendency.”

One time, after I biked home in despair, I was so tired from the early rising that I took a long nap. I woke up in complete darkness and I was all alone. I cried. That was the loneliest and the most helpless moment in my life, which is still so vivid in my memory and gives me tears on my face as I am writing this today.

In my last trip to the U.S. embassy in December 1989, I told myself that it was my last try, and if I still couldn’t get my visa, then I would stop trying and it was just not meant to be. That morning, I really heard a magpie (the bird that Chinese believe brings good luck) sing on a tree outside the embassy where we waited in line. I got my visa that day.

My parents told me to not to tell my friends, classmates or school, but just pack my bags to fly to the U.S. as soon as possible, because they were so afraid that my visa would be taken away by anyone, especially in a China that just had the Tiananmen Square massacre in June. On Dec. 15, 1989, I landed in Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and reunited with my father after not seeing him for three years and reunited with my mother after not seeing her for one year. That was the longest year in my life.

What I experienced in 1989 China is probably similar to what many people from Muslim countries experience today — it takes years of efforts and heartaches to immigrate to the U.S. and for families to reunite because of various hurdles including the long visa process due to both the rigorous background check and maintaining the quota for U.S. entry.

What re-ignited that old pain in my heart is that the Muslim ban is trying to take that hard-earned visa back. If there were such a China ban on Dec. 15, 1989, I’d be denied entry at the Dallas airport with my parents being just on the other side of the gate; we’d be so close and yet so far from each other. This is what many have painfully experienced since the Muslim ban. My heart goes to them. May American people help them and protect them!

America is truly a “beautiful country,” as in its name in Chinese (Mei Guo). It is a place where hard work and aspiration can earn you opportunities and success no matter who you are, where you are from and how humble your beginning was.

My family certainly had a humble beginning. My father had just $40 when he first came to the U.S. One week after my arrival in the U.S., he was diagnosed with cancer.

Despite such a tough beginning, I could still aspire, work hard and flourish. I got my Ph.D. in computer science from UC Berkeley, became a renowned computer scientist and made fundamental contributions to people’s daily computing, and now I am the CEO and cofounder of, working to change the world of children’s enrichment education.

I am just one of the many motivated, passionate and hardworking immigrants who has helped make our nation America. I hope America will always be the dream land for these immigrants and warmly welcome them to realize their full potential and to greatly contribute to this world.

Helen Wang is CEO and cofounder of in Bellevue.